Sunday, January 04, 2009

A nice sort of a word

It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.


'Pythagoras,' he said, 'believed in the transmigration of the soul, and cautioned us to be careful when we ate beans, in case we were eating the soul of our grandmother.'


For history as far as I can see is not the arrangement of what happens, in sequence and in truth, but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth.


A child is never the author of his own history. I suppose this is well known.


Unfathomable. Fathoms. I wonder is that the difficulty, that my memories and my imaginings are lying deeply in the same place? Or one on top of the other like layers of shells and sand in a piece of limestone, so that they have both become the same element, and I cannot distinguish one from the other with any ease, unless it is from close, close looking?


Imaginings. A nice sort of a word for catastrophe and delusion.


But I am beginning to wonder strongly what is the nature of history. Is it only memory in decent sentences, and if so, how reliable is it? I would suggest, not very. And that therefore most truth and fact offered by these syntactical means is treacherous and unreliable. And yet I recognise that we live our lives, and even keep our sanity, by the lights of this treachery and this unreliability, just as we build our love of country on these paper worlds of misapprehension and untruth. Perhaps this is our nature, and perhaps unaccountably is it part of our glory as a creature, that we can build our best and most permanent buildings on foundations of utter dust.

--Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

1 comment:

  1. Shoot. I didn't accept this one when it was offered, and these excerpts sound so good.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.